Category Archives: Classes

Fall Classes 08

I enjoyed my classes fall semester. There was a lot of crazy super sciencing and fun was had. Here’s a summary of my classes and how they went:

Mechanics of Particles and Solid Bodies:

GorgeI thought that I would be okay with classical mechanics, but it turned out to be my worst class grade-wise. Just because it’s “classical”, doesn’t mean it’s easy. I should have given the class more attention and worked harder on understanding the curriculum. The professor was very nice and cared a lot about students grasping the material, but her teaching style was strange to me. I would label as very continuous; lectures would be a constant flow of consciousness with every patch of the blackboard filled with notes or drawings. Everything fit nicely together with lots of detail but I’d often lose track of the overall goal.

Introductory Quantum Mechanics (half a semester):

QM was as confusing as I thought it would be (very). I hope I’ll understand it better in my full semester long QM class this spring. I understand some of the underlying concepts of QM, but overall it just doesn’t make sense to me.

Intermediate Electromagnetism (half a semester):

First half of E&M was “Do you remember how to do Freshmen E&M?” My answer was “yes.” Second half was “Can you solve Laplace’s Equation?” My answer was “no”, even though I should have mastered it last year. But oh well, I know the basics of E&M pretty well and I should be able to survive my Electrodynamics class this spring.

Introduction to Astrophysics and Space Sciences:

Astrophysics was very challenging. It was by far the smallest science class I’ve ever been in with only about 10 students, 5 of who regularly attended lectures. Students were mostly seniors in physics with some junior and AEPs. Homework and exams were some of the most difficult I’ve ever had, relying heavily on deriving equations yourself. It’s the kind of work I prefer, using conceptual understanding and problem solving skills rather than grunt work calculations. It can be very frustrating though, when you have a one sentence long question and you still haven’t made any progress after working on it for hours, although it’s quite rewarding when (if ever) you figure it out.

Physical Sciences ConstructionI really enjoyed lectures for this class and learned a lot. Lectures were in the top of the Space Sciences Building in a cool conference room with an nice view of the construction on the the new physical sciences building. Astro combines all sorts of different kinds of physics from E&M to QM to General Relativity to Chemistry to Nuclear Physics to Solid-state Physics to Classical Mechanics and so on. It introduced me to a lot of new things. Somehow I survived it and I look forward to my next Astro class.

Introduction to Nuclear Science and Engineering:

This was a cool class that was pretty light on the homework side of things, which was nice for a change. I’ve long had an interest energy production, nuclear in particular, and this class taught me a lot about issues in the nuclear industry. I liked the nuclear physics portion of the curriculum more than the actual engineering of power plants, but it was still interesting overall.

Halfway There

The Slope on Slope DayThere has been a ton of stuff that’s happened since my last post long ago in April. Well to sum it up, I survived the semester. I passed all of my classes and did alright on 3 of the 4 (let’s not talk about the 4th….). The end of the semester was fun. There was CornellCon, with anime, video games, and sword fighting in late April and of course Slope Day in early May. Last slope day I was stuck finishing up a lab, but this year I had some free time and actually went. Partying isn’t really my thing, but it was fun just to wander around and check out the scene. I also went through the cool underground tunnel from Olin Library to Uris Library that’s open on slope day. I took some cool pictures of the slope from Uris, too bad McGraw tower was closed (I actually still have never been up there shame on me).

Ho PlazaSo two years down, two more to go. Sophomore year was a good year, although not without its share of difficulties. Things could have better, things could have been worse, but what’s important is that I avoided disaster and stuck with things. After two years of classes I have narrowed down my interests to Physics (huge range of topics), Astronomy, Computer Science, and possibly Math. The more I learn about them, the more I find out how little I actually know. There is so much cool stuff out there to learn, unfortunately I’m too lazy to learn everything I’d like to : ( But I have two years left and I hope to make the best out of them. I know I’ll have a tremendous amount of work to do, but considering how much I’ve learned from the past two years of mostly intro classes, I’m really excited about continuing my education and hope I can keep with it.

Work Work Work

Oh the slopeA common question about Cornell is “how is the workload?” The short unhelpful answer is that it depends, duh. Here is the longer answer:

If you really want to graduate with doing hardly any work, it’s possible. Take an “easy” major, just meet the minimum requirements; it isn’t all that hard. But then if you do that, why are you even bothering to go to Cornell, just to get a certificate that says that you’re smart? If you want to get the most out of Cornell, you will take the major you want to take independent of how “easy” or “hard” it is considered to be. Any major will be difficult if you apply yourself to it, but I can’t really talk about anything other than my own major, AEP, which has been extremely difficult so far.

My life at Cornell has been centered around doing work (especially this semester), I’m always thinking about upcoming tests and assignments; it’s the focus of why I’m here. But of course I don’t do nearly as much work as I ought to, there are always so many cool things to do and only so few hours in the day. Whenever a small break in work comes around and I slack off some, I’m suddenly behind in everything. It’s really tough to keep on top of everything all the time and sometimes I just get sick of the constant battle and need a nice break even at the expense of my work. It’s really hard now that spring has come just look how green it is! But somehow I’m surviving the battle and I enjoy being challenged; I think I’m getting a lot out of my hard classes.

I’ve found it extremely difficult to find the right course load that works for me. Too much, I can’t focus enough on each class, too little I’m wasting my time here. Taking full advantage of everything at Cornell is impossible and it’s hard to find how far to extend yourself without becoming overwhelmed. The following guide may help tell if you have too much work:
You are overloaded with work if you find yourself:

  • Trying to get some rest by closing your eyes while walking to classes
  • Telling time based on exam dates and when assignments are due, “When was March, like 3 problem sets ago? I forget”
  • Applying what you learn excessively, “Wow, I’ve been getting a lot of observations of photons at 510 nm lately” (trans: Wow, it’s been very green lately)
  • Being jealous of people reading newspapers during lunch, “Who has time for that, don’t they have work to do?”
  • Never posting on your blog as often as you should
  • Thinking late times aren’t that late, “It’s only 2:31 am, I have plenty of time”
  • Feeling uncomfortable, like something is not right with the universe, when you fully complete an assignment before it’s due
  • Trivializing things not so trivial, “After that it’s just algebra” or “After that it’s just Calculus” or “After that it’s just solving the differential equation” or “After that it’s just solving Laplace’s equation in a toroidal coordinate system” or “After that it should be easily solvable somehow”
  • Shielding yourself from being hit by an exorbitant number of photons on the rare chance you emerge from your protective shelter deep underground

Of Dark Matter and Reality

AndromedaWe’ve talked about dark matter somewhat in my Astro class and it came up sometimes in my physics class last semester. I think that it is a really interesting issue in modern science. I’m by far no expert on the subject, but I’m soon to start some serious physics classes next semester and I think the problem of dark matter is representative of many unsolved problems in physics.

Okay, so here is the problem: according to our current standard model, galaxies should be unstable, but the fact that they exist tells us otherwise. Pictured is our closest spiral galaxy, Andromeda (credit: Edward Henry). The solution to this problem is that either the standard model is wrong, or that there is some kind of undetectable mass (“dark matter”) that exists and holds galaxies together, making them stable.

Although most Astronomers today think dark matter is real, there are some who disagree and think that perhaps universial laws are different under extreme circumstances that we haven’t tested. Most aspects of the standard model have been tested to work extraordinarily well at very large and very small distances like Electromagnetism, but some things like Gravity we aren’t as sure of. What would be ideal is to find a new model that works for galaxies as well as everything else the standard model works for, but this is really hard and no one has been able to do it.

The part of this that I find most interesting is whether or not it is valid to “invent” something we can’t detect just because they make our models work. There are a lot of things in theoretical physics that were predicted to exist and were later discovered, but does that mean we can say something exists without ever detecting it (e.g. gravity waves)? At what point is a model shown to be good enough to be accepted as reality; how many unsolved problems is it allowed to have?

This is just one of many crazy things I’d like to learn more about in the nonsensical world of physics. Other things that hurt my head to think about: mass of a photon, wave-particle duality, c is the same in all reference frames, expansion of the universe, quantum tunneling.

Too Much Awesomeness Can Be A Bad Thing

Snowy TreesI have been super busy as of late. I’m always amazed by how much stuff there is to do and get done here at school, especially compared to when I’m at home. Anyway, last week I reached a point where the only way for me to even attempt to complete all of my work was to skip sleeping. It wasn’t because I was slacking off, I just had too much on plate. So because of my love of sleep I dropped MATH 413, I just simply didn’t have any time to devote to it. All my classes this semester are quite good, but it is pointless to take so many if I can’t spend enough time on each one. It is really hard to find the perfect balance between having plenty to do and being overwhelmed with work.

Despite this I’ve been enjoying my semester so far and I’ve already learned a lot. Here are a few random things that I’ve learned in the past six weeks:

  • Applying for internships is a pain, but there are tons of cool jobs out there. You might as well apply.
  • Even though every week of Mathematical Physics feels like it can’t get more difficult, it can and it does
  • If you go sledding down the slope, don’t go down the steepest part with the asphalt path in your way that makes you flip over and fly into the air…
  • I can’t survive without regularly consuming delicious Cornell chocolate milk and apple cider
  • Simple combinatorics are never that simple
  • When you can work with a partner on a CS project you really should, it helps a lot. This might have been why I was having so much trouble with CS 211 towards the end of last year. Speaking of CS211, there is a lecture up on Cornell Cast of 211 taught by Graeme Bailey, check it out. I’ve never had Bailey, but I always hear good things.
  • I finally understand Cantor’s diagonal argument
  • Astronomers are super clever in figuring out how to measure distances of far away objects
  • Functional programing languages are very compact and powerful as well as awesome
  • The physics of stars is incredibly interesting, difficult, and cool.
  • The methods of solving differential equations are endless
  • Being in the MSDNAA is quite awesome
  • Always have backup batteries, even the simplest of devices can lead to failure. That and the fact no one uses AA anymore.

Up the Slope @ Yahoo! VideoOh, and if you so desire, click on this picture for a short clip of one of my treks up the slope. I’ve been playing around with video a bit but wordpress really seems to dislike embedding video.

Switching Classes

Oh Ithaca, how you amuse meAlthough I wrote how I was enjoying MATH 311 (Intro to Analysis) a couple of weeks ago, I didn’t like the pace of the the course during the second week. I was liking the material, but the math just wasn’t as rigorous as I had hoped and anticipated for. Luckily there is an honors version of the class (MATH 413) this semester and it doesn’t conflict with my schedule. I talked to the professor and sat in on a lecture. Although this class is much more difficult, it was more of what I was looking for, so I decided to switch to the honors course.

I’ve actually never switched classes after they have started before, probably because I was just too lazy to change anything. In retrospect there was definitely some classes I should have changed or dropped after the first couple weeks, but oh well it’s in the past now. Anyway, switching was rather simple, it’s still within the deadline to add a class and I made the change in add/drop in 10 seconds. One problem was that the classes use different textbooks. I bought the honors textbook at the Cornell Store to do the homework while the textbook I bought used online for way cheaper was in the mail. The Cornell Store often doesn’t have a very good price for textbooks, but I love their return policy of 7 days after purchase or 3 days after drop for a full refund. So although it’s a little annoying, I didn’t lose any money from switching textbooks.

Being overloaded with awesome classes as I am, I hope I don’t end up regretting this decision. I love challenging classes, but I hate doing all the hard work required for them. It’s kind of a problem.

AEP 363, Electronic Circuits

I’ve been meaning to make this post for a while now; this is about the class I took last semester.

I had two choices to fulfill my circuits requirements, take AEP 363 or take ECE 210 and 230. While 363 was two labs a week for one semester, the alternative was one lab a week for two semesters. Going into fall classes I was afraid about taking 363. I heard some horror stories such as someone working 20 hours a week in labs for this class. Luckily this didn’t happen to me, but it was still a lot of lab. I spent on average 5 to 6 hours in lab every week.

AEP 363 LabI’ve had bad experiences with labs before. Often I would go to a lab and just have no idea where to start. Instructions were vague and I just didn’t know what I was doing. 363 has definitely been my best lab experience so far at Cornell. The curriculum is very well integrated with the lab experiments and topics build up naturally going from analog circuits and transitioning nicely at transistors into digital circuits. Other things that improved my lab experience:

  • I paired up with a smart senior who knows how to ask questions (something I’m not very good at).
  • The TA and professor were very helpful, they didn’t just say “figure it out on your own”, they actually helped me arrive at the answer without giving it to me.
  • The lab set up is nice (pictured).
  • Instructions were usually clear.
  • I used to play around with electronics when I was little so I was kinda familiar with some stuff already.
  • I liked the pace of topics (fast but not too fast).

There was also a 2 hour lecture every week. The professor was a little monotone, but he knew what he was talking about and gave everyone donuts in the middle of class : ) One of my suite mates took ECE 230 and when I saw his work I cringed in fear; he had to make enormously complicated virtual circuits. In my opinion once you understand the basics, making something very complicated is just busy work and needless pain. I’m glad I went with AEP 363.

Classes Start Again, Initial Impressions

AEP 322: It’s like what I expected. There are a couple of new students who were doing co-op last semester, otherwise it’s with all the same people as AEP 321. Right now we’re doing differential equations (why is this topic so boring and yet so important?).

ENGRD 270: Wow this class is huge. I didn’t expect there to be well over a hundred students. All my other classes are around 30-60 students. The first lecture was pretty dull. The professor told us that he found out he is teaching this class only 4 days ago. Apparently the first couple weeks is very easy and then it suddenly gets challenging. I’d like to better understand stats, but this class is not going to be very fun.

The Cold SlopeASTRO 332: Seems to be kinda light on the work side of things with only seven short HW’s for the semester. The first two lectures have been fun and I learned some interesting things from them. It’s intended for Engineers so it will probably be the best intro space class for me. To really get into space stuff I would need to take General Relativity, which I hear is extremely hard.

MATH 311: This class is like a breath of fresh air. Even though I’ve been taking math for every semester I’ve been at Cornell, I haven’t approached math with this kind of rigor before; it is a nice change of pace. I suppose there isn’t that much practical use of this math in Engineering, but I enjoy learning it anyway.

CS 312: I decided to try this class out on a whim. Some people recommended it and said it was fun. Although I did poorly in my last CS class, I decided to give it another try. CS can be very frustrating and/or very fun. Although this is considered the third basic CS course (after CS 100, 212) the class size is much smaller and is made up of mostly CS majors. I was surprised to learn that this class doesn’t use OOP but instead functional languages. I never was very proficient with OOP so maybe I’ll be better with this style once I get familiar with it.

Course Load: So that’s 19 credits of science/math (270 is 3 credits, the rest are 4). The classes I’m most unsure about are CS 312 and ENGRD 270; I might drop one of them. Right now I see the difficulty order starting with the hardest being 322 > 312 > 311 > 270 > 332. I wonder what I’ll think at the end of the semester. I should be able to handle this course load without serious problems if I keep up with everything (which is very hard to do).

Spring '08 ScheduleSchedule: More spread out than last semester and now I have no labs and only one class on Fridays. My classes now are in many different buildings so I don’t feel cooped up like before. My day starts a lot earlier, which is probably a good thing and will help me get up and do my work. Downside is that I’ve already been very late to one of my early classes : (

Weather: When I left for my first class Monday morning, it was 5 degrees Fahrenheit outside. That’s as cold as it has gotten so far, now it’s around 20. It really isn’t too bad because all the buildings are warm and I don’t have to walk all that far. The big downside is that there is no snow to play with.

Blogging: I know I’ve been real lazy. I’m going to post every Wednesday and Sunday now so please email me an angry rant if I miss a day.

Mathematical Physics I

For most engineering students, math classes stop after the standard Engineering Math courses, MATH 191 (calc), 192 (multi variable), 293 (diff eq), and 294 (linear algebra), but for AEP major hopefuls (i.e. me) two more math classes are required, Mathematical Physics I and II (AEP 321 and 322). These are very important core courses for AEP that compress many semesters worth of pure math into math most relevant to physics students. This semester I took 321. I have to say that this is the most difficult course I’ve taken so far followed by CS211 (start the projects super early!) and Phys 218 (arg, more on that later). By comparison, Mathematical Physics makes Engineering Math courses look as easy as cake. The class is intended for Juniors although a good number of sophomores like me take it early. There are also seniors and some grad students.

I was disappointed by the Engineering Math courses (mainly 192 and 293). Curriculum was a hodgepodge of topics, and the textbooks weren’t so great. Even though there was an emphasis on applications and getting useful results, I never fully grasped a lot of the material. I often just got by by knowing how to solve problems on a case by case basis, which I really hate doing, we should learn new ideas, not just memorize equations. There wasn’t enough time spent on theory to understand where everything came from and why. From friends in the Arts School I hear that the standard math sequence there suffers from the opposite problem and is too theoretical with few applications. I really like the mix between theory and application in 321. Most equations are derived clearly and logically and they all have really awesome applications.

Professor Kusse has been teaching the class for decades and literally wrote the book on it (pictured). The textbook and lectures are very synchronized and the curriculum is fascinating. What’s tough is that there is a lot of material to cover and it is all brand new stuff that is hard to get accustomed to. Grades are still not in and I know I’ve been doing poorly in this class; I hope I don’t have to retake it…

Courses To Take Next Semester

Pre-Enrollment for sophomores (me) starts tomorrow morning. Although I have a lot of time before spring semester classes start and I can still add/drop classes then, it’s best to do pre-enrollment to ensure I get into my important classes. Since I’m out of sequence for my next physics classes, the only core class I really need to take is AEP 322, the rest is up to me. Here is the course description for 322 from the Cornell Courses of Study site:

A&EP 322(3220) Mathematical Physics II
Spring. 4 credits. Prerequisite: A&EP 321. Second of two-course sequence in mathematical physics intended for upper-level undergraduates in physical sciences. B. Kusse.

Topics include partial differential equations, Bessel functions, spherical harmonics, separation of variables, wave and diffusion equations, Laplace, Helmholtz, and Poisson’s Equations, transform techniques, Green’s functions; integral equations, Fredholm equations, kernals; complex variables, theory, branch points and cuts, Riemann sheets, method of steepest descent; tensors, contravariant, and covariant representations; group theory, matrix representations, class and character. Texts: Mathematical Methods for Physicists by Arfken and Mathematical Physics by Butkov.

I have three other courses I’m interested in taking next semester. None of them are required, but they can all count towards Major-Approved Electives.
Probability and statistics comes up all the time in Science and Engineering, but I don’t know much about it. This is probably going to be a dull class, but will be very helpful in future classes. ENGRD 270 is the standard Engineering stats class:

ENGRD 270(2700) Basic Engineering Probability and Statistics
Fall, spring, summer. 3 credits. Prerequisites: MATH 191 and 192. MATH 294 should be completed before or concurrently with ENGRD 270.

Gives students a working knowledge of basic probability and statistics and their application to engineering. Includes computer analysis of data and simulation. Topics include random variables, probability distributions, expectation, estimation, testing, experimental design, quality control, and regression.

I’ve always been very interested in space. I’d like to learn about it in a serious academic setting rather than just through popular science. ASTRO 332 sounds good, not too basic and I still meet all of the prerequisites:

ASTRO 332(3332) Elements of Astrophysics (PBS)
Spring. 4 credits. Prerequisites: MATH 112, 122, 192, or equivalent; PHYS 213 or 217. J. Houck.

Introduction to astronomy, with emphasis on the application of physics to the study of the universe. Covers: physical laws of radiation; distance, size, mass, and age of stars, galaxies, and the universe; stellar evolution and nucleosynthesis; supernovae and black holes; galaxies and quasars. Introduction to cosmology. Mainly intended for students of science, engineering, and science education interested in astronomy and astrophysics.

I want to try out a pure math course just to see if I’d like it or not. I am unsure about this class because I’m rather unfamiliar with mathematical proofs, which will be essential in the course. I can easily see myself hating this course, but I want to try it out anyway (I can always drop it if I want). MATH 311 sounds like a good introduction into pure math for me:

MATH 311(3110) Introduction to Analysis (MQR)
Fall, spring. 4 credits. Prerequisites: MATH 221-222, 223-224, or 192 and 294.

Provides a transition from calculus to real analysis. Topics include rigorous treatment of fundamental concepts in calculus: including limits and convergence of sequences and series, compact sets; continuity, uniform continuity and differentiability of functions. Emphasis is placed upon understanding and constructing mathematical proofs.

Red UrisThis comes to a total of four classes and since I might decide to drop one of these classes, I’m still thinking of adding another class. Any suggestions? I also wanted to try out CS 314 but its schedule conflicted. And just because I like to put pictures in all my posts, here is a picture of Uris Library that I took yesterday.